Originally from Vienna, a noteworthy professor at the University of Munchen, and one of the three 1973 co-Nobel Laureates for Physiology or Medicine (the other two being Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas "Nico" Tinbergen) for his work in the fields of ethology and animal behavior.
Dr. von Frisch's most significant work was conducted on ordinary honeybees. In an effort to understand if and how foraging scout bees caused their hive-sitting worker bee counterparts to be able to locate large food sources, von Frisch kept his own hives and set up his own food stations at measured distances and angles from them.
Honeybees perform stereotyped dances (more like walking a specific path) after returning from a food discovery. These dances come in two varieties, a round dance that essentially looks like a circle, and a waggle dance that consists of a figure eight-like maneuver, during which the scout, while crossing the middle of the eight, slows down its walking and waggles its behind. During this dance, other bees crowd around the scout, as if to watch and learn. With good cause, von Frisch believed that all this behavior pointed to the dance serving as a signal for the other bees, giving them some information about the location of the food bonanza before flying back there himself to harvest some, with his hivemates in hot pursuit. Other scientists of the era believed other cues were at work, and that the bees were not actually communicating. So, like any good scientist, von Frisch performed a series of experiments.
Rival hypothesis: The bees are simply rediscovering the food based on the smell that the scout brings back.
Well, testing this turned out to be simple enough; von Frisch removed his food source after the scout discovered it. The bees still flew toward the location of the food even without this cue.
Rival hypothesis: The bees are following the scout blindly as he returns to the food source.
Another simple test: remove the scout as soon as he leaves the hive. The result: the bees still were able to fly towards the food.
Rival hypothesis: The dancing merely indicates that food is nearby, making bees more likely to go hunt it down.
von Frisch moved the food source, and the bees did not find it, instead going in the general vicinity of where the food had been. If the scout was merely signaling that food was around, the bees would find it just as quickly at an equal distance but different direction; this was not the case.
So, the food doesn't have to be there, the scout doesn't need to lead them there... the bees basically know where to fly. What's going on? von Frisch was right, the scout was indeed communicating, but what? von Frisch observed that the number of wiggles correlated with the distance from the hive. Simple enough... but how did the direction get communicated? Using some very innovative techniques involving an artificial light source, von Frisch was able to disorient his bees. It turns out that the observer bees utilize the orientation of the dance with respect to gravity (i.e., the vertical) to determine the direction of the food from the hive in relation to the sun.
The bee dancing is an interesting factoid, but more importantly, a discovery was made about legitimate symbolic communication in animals. In this example, motor behavior is used to convey the abstract concept of distance, and one cue, gravity, is translated to another cue, the location of the sun in the sky. This discovery has the basis for a great deal of today's research on animal communication and cognition. Dr. von Frisch and the other two scientists are to this day the only animal behaviorists to have ever won the Nobel Prize.
done from memory in the spirit of node your homework... if I'm missing details or in error, do the /msg please